100 Years of Diaries

Wow, I can’t believe I never heard about this gallery show when it was in New York this past fall: Dylan Stone’s 100 Years project at Ruth Phaneuf Fine Arts. I found out about it via a recent post at Design Observer:

The Twentieth Century began on the morning of the 20th of August, 1900, when an anonymous boy was taken by his father to the Simcoe train station. He boarded the 8:03 train and arrived in Toronto at 11:30. The event that shook the world? “Met mother.”

So begins the history of the last century as seen through a collection of pocket datebooks — one for each year — assembled by the British artist Dylan Stone. It took him three years to collect the diaries from flea markets, eBay auctions and estate sales. They were on display recently in at the Ruth Phaneuf gallery in New York City, along with a century’s worth of printed invoices and programs (mostly from theater and film openings). Conceptually, these three collections reflect a century of printed material gleaned from the perspective of commerce, entertainment and the realm of the everyday.

The datebooks are the most compelling. As physical objects, they trace a trajectory from the leather-bound, embossed and marbled first half of the century to the pleather-covered planners of the 1980s and 1990’s. They tell the story of fastidious cursive handwriting giving way to block lettering, of hand-made production giving way to mass production, of elegance devolving into kitsch. As printed artifacts, this is a familiar trajectory, which, depending on your point of view, will either evoke a nostalgic sigh of despair or a satisfied haarrumph at the triumph of Staples-like efficiency and cost-effectiveness.

This is a photo of the installation in New York:

I’m quite inspired that it only took him 3 years to collect these– there must still be some gems out there for me!

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One Response to “100 Years of Diaries”

  1. Incredible collection. I have to admit when doing research in the Hudson Bay archives and the like, I find the language and handwriting awe inspiring in some ways.

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